Travelers to Europe tend to visit the same destinations: Paris, London, Munich, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Prague, Budapest, Rome, Florence, Stockholm, and Salzburg are on nearly everyone’s list. The universal popularity of these cities results in their often being jammed with students, tour groups, and large numbers of independent travelers during the prime summer season. Other European destinations are also popular, of course, but you probably get the picture.
More adventurous travelers seek out-of-the-way destinations where crowds are smaller, prices are lower, and locals are friendlier. Nowhere in Europe are residents friendlier than in the Croatian capital city of Zabreb, a town of nearly 700,000 people. During a recent stay several locals asked why we chose to visit their hometown of which they are quite proud. When we told them we were returning for a second visit because our first stay was so enjoyable, they beamed with pride. This stop was one of the high points during our three-month rail journey through Europe. We enjoyed music, dancing, shopping, and met some of the nicest and most interesting people encountered during the entire trip. But the best part of our stay was a complete surprise.
- Located in the northern region of a crescent-shaped country best known for its beautiful coastal areas, Zagreb is no more than a day’s scenic train ride from a number of major European cities including Vienna.
- Like most large European cities, it is best to visit during weekends when festivals are scheduled and hotel prices tend to be lower. During a July weekend visit we encountered music in the park, costumed dancers in the central square, carriage rides, a huge farmers’ market, changing of the guard, and a very enjoyable and informative historical interpretive programs. This latter experience was the surprise mentioned earlier.
- Each Saturday evening between mid-April and late September local citizens in period costume portray real and mythical people from Zagreb’s past. During our stroll through Upper Town (the city’s historical area), we first encountered Dora Krupiceva and Pavle Gregorijanec, Zagreb’s equivalent of Romeo and Juliet, who shared with us their unfortunate love story made popular in the historical novel The Goldsmith’s Gold. A short time later we met Marija Juric Vagorka, Croatia’s first female journalist, and Antun Gustav Matos, a Croatian short story author and travel writer. Other characters included Knights of the Silver Dragon, city guards, and The Sandman who distributed small bags of sand to visitors. Each person offered a story of the importance of their lives in Zagreb. In addition to these enthusiastic impersonators, we watched as a real-life lamplighter strolled the city lighting gas lamps.
- Croatia is a beautiful country filled with residents proud of its storied history. Nowhere is this more evident than in its capital of Zagreb where citizens happily offer their guests a special visit to the city’s past.